On inspiring, mentoring and being role models for the next generation of women athletes

I’m sure lots of people have read the story by now of Coco Gauff, the 15 year old who beat Venus Williams in round one of Wimbledon this week. It’s always exciting to see young athletes step into elite levels of competition and succeed. But there was something all the more poignant about this story because apparently, as they approached the umpire to shake hands, Venus did the good sport thing and congratulated Coco. Coco in turn, thanked. Venus, saying “I wouldn’t be here without you.”

I missed the match and I didn’t hear either of them interviewed, but this tweet just warmed my heart. Here is a young athlete who has just won against the very woman who inspired her.

It got me thinking back the Nike soccer video about dreams from a few weeks ago. It had a similar vibe, of the awareness of generations of athletes — of women – and how important it is that they support each other. The “elders” inspire and mentor. The youth aspire and show gratitude and respect. And everyone is a good sport about it.

Feminists and other social justice advocates have argued for the importance of mentors and role models in all areas. When we talk about importance of diverse representation in politics, in work places, in educational institutions, in movies, and yes, in sport, it’s because when we see people who look like us doing things, it makes it possible that we might too. And if we never do, then we often think “that must not be for people like me.” It’s not the whole story of course, but it is an important part of it.

And that’s the part that Coco’s tweet says so simply and straightforwardly. Venus Williams and her sister Serena have been trail blazers for women of colour in a sport that is mostly white. Their presence at the top of professional tennis for over a decade has changed the face of the sport. And it has shown girls of colour that professional tennis can indeed be for them.

Even if they never interacted before that day, Venus served as an inspiring role model for Coco. And Venus, accepting her defeat with grace, showed what it means to be a good sport. And that in itself is a type of mentorship, the kind that says, “This is how it’s done.”

Do you have any good stories of mentoring and inspiring the next generation?

One thought on “On inspiring, mentoring and being role models for the next generation of women athletes

  1. I don’t have any personal stories about sports oriented woman/athlete inspired by an older one….except I did meet in person Nora Young, a competitive cyclist in Toronto, one of the few women who did cycle, etc. in 1930’s.

    She was already in her mid-70’s but she still biked approx. 30 km. daily. It was at the international Toronto bike show where I was manning the volunteer info. table for our cycling group, Women on Wheels. She was so unlike my stereotyped idea of woman in her 70’s.

    Female cycling advocates in Toronto area in 1990’s did know of her and what she did.

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